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  • Revd Tim Lewis

Social Justice Starts in the Womb


Tim Lewis writes about the importance of the human life from its very beginning.


Our culture is big on social justice. At its best this can mean a laudable desire to safeguard the dignity and worth of every person. At its worst it can collapse into competitive victimhood, often pitching different minority groups against each other in a zero sum political game. The Bible has lots of things to say about social justice which cannot be fully explored in a short blog. Instead I want to argue, based on Job 31:15, that social justice starts in the womb.


To provide some context, let’s look at Job 31:13–15 (ESV):


13 “If I have rejected the cause of my manservant or my maidservant,

when they brought a complaint against me,

14 what then shall I do when God rises up?

When he makes enquiry, what shall I answer him?

15 Did not he who made me in the womb make him?

And did not one fashion us in the womb?


In his own social milieu Job demonstrates a tremendously enlightened attitude to his male and female servants, treating them as human beings, rather than property. This fair treatment extends to investigating their complaints against him (Job 31:13). In spite of his great wealth Job knew that he was also a servant of God (Job 1:8; 2:3). This is similar to the New Testament, where those in positions of power are warned to remember that they too have a master in heaven who watches them (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). God is universal judge: Job’s first reason for righteous conduct (Job 31:14).


His second motivation is that God is also universal Creator (Job 31:15). Inherent human dignity stems from there being just one Creator of all people: rich and poor, black and white, etc. This idea is a biblical staple (e.g., Gen 1:27; Prov 14:31; 17:5; 22:2; Acts 17:26; Rom 2:11). Earlier Job reflected that the grave is the great leveller of social distinctions (Job 3:13–19). But human equality is not an afterthought, evident only in death, it is the Creator’s original intention, whatever distortions people subsequently imposed upon society. Job moves here from personal relationship (Job 10:8–12) to shared reality. What is true for himself is true for humanity without exception. The creative sphere for this universal impartiality is the womb. We are all fashioned by the same God with the same care in the same place (Job 31:15).


Various implications flow from this insight. There is a “solidarity in the womb” – we are all “fellow fetuses”![1] Every person on the planet was once, as we were, a vulnerable unborn child. This solidarity (based on common creational history in utero) should shape our interaction with our neighbours.


Elsewhere the Israelites are exhorted to kind treatment of vulnerable groups by reminding them of their previous status as slaves and sojourners in Egypt (e.g., Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33–4; Deuteronomy 10:19; 15:12–15; 16:12; 24:17–22). If shared past experience is a powerful motive for compassion towards those currently in a similar situation (such as refugees), it must also be a strong motive for compassion towards the child currently within the womb. In Job 31:13–15 it is precisely God’s incontrovertible creation of every person in the womb that makes human dignity and value meaningful and universally applicable. On Job’s logic, it makes no sense to refuse to extend human dignity and inherent value to unborn children, those who are at the very stage of development that demonstrates most completely their status as created by God.


Today, organisations which purport to defend the human rights of all, should not deny human personhood, dignity, worth and protection to the unborn child. Not only is this a sad distortion of a once noble heritage, it fundamentally undercuts one of the key reasons the Bible presents for universal human rights and just treatment for all: our common origin in the womb.[2] As Christians we need to expose such perversions with the light of God’s truth. There is no better place to start than Job 31:13–15.


Footnotes:

[1]  Paul T. Ramsey, “Reference Points in Deciding about Abortion” in The Morality of Abortion, ed. John T. Noonan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 67.

[2]  The Jewish theologian Robert Gordis, calls Job 31:15 “the most striking affirmation in the Bible – unsurpassed anywhere else – of the equality of all human beings, which is rooted in their common origin as the handiwork of God.” See Robert Gordis, The Book of Job. Commentary, New Translation and Special Studies (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America Press, 1978), 339. Ominously Gordis observes that a commentary on Job written by German scholar Gustav Hölscher in 1937, at the height of the Third Reich, simply omitted this verse from his discussion.

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Tim Lewis is Theology Lead for Brephos and a PhD candidate at Union Theological College, Belfast.

Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.

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